Tuesday, May 31, 2016

New Stuff

This is going to be a short week for me, not just because of the Monday holiday, but also because I'll be going to a family reunion at the end of the week. I'm in research/brainstorming mode, so I'll probably still be "working," but I won't be doing my usual office hours/social media/admin stuff.

That means I'll be cramming a lot into the next couple of days, with getting ready for a trip and trying to do work. I got a lot of research reading done over the weekend. I'm in the stage where I'm reading up on things that might be historical or cultural parallels, just to see what ideas it sparks. And no, I'm not ready to talk about what this book is going to be because I want it at least plotted and outlined and maybe some writing done before I know for sure if it's going to work. It's still too vague to commit to.

However, I do have a release date for Rebel Magisters, the sequel to Rebel Mechanics. We're aiming at putting it out July 12, which is the same day the paperback of the first book comes out. I'm hoping that will maximize the exposure for both, and if people discover the first book in paperback, then they won't have to wait for the sequel.

And yes, I'm planning a sequel to the sequel. I originally plotted this out as a trilogy, but we'll see where it goes. There are just a couple of other things I want to write first. I'm planning for this to be a nose-to-the-grindstone writing summer so I can get a lot of the projects that are in my head out into the world.

Now to go bake some cookies to take to the family reunion. I guess you could call it Cookies for the Cousins.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Waging a War

I've had quite the week. Not only did I get a book finished and turned in and provided input on the cover design (oh, it's going to be gorgeous), but I've fought and won a battle in my house. Here is the epic tale (which my Facebook followers have already heard, in pieces).

Before I went on my trip, I got the downstairs part of my house cleaned. The kitchen, especially, was scrubbed down, with the counters decluttered and disinfected and the floor mopped. I was very proud of maintaining this upon my return, cleaning up after cooking and having it spotless again every night before I went to bed.

And then I got up Saturday morning to find the shredded remains of a Hershey's Kiss wrapper on my countertop, along with some suspiciously sparkly mouse droppings (it must have eaten as much foil as it shredded).

Well, right there we had two capital offenses: stealing my chocolate and messing up my clean kitchen. After I put the chocolate in a safe location and scrubbed the counters with disinfectant, I found that I still had a mousetrap lying around. My Hindu neighbors may try to catch and release copperheads rather than killing them, but I figure that letting a mouse go is only inflicting it on someone else and letting it multiply (since they don't do that neuter and release thing for mice that they do with feral cats). Killing the mice quickly and mercifully lowers the population so they don't get so hungry they invade houses and eat chocolate. So, that night before I went to bed, I set the trap. I found the corpse of my slain foe the next morning. Success! I scrubbed and disinfected the counters again and figured I was good.

Until I found more (less sparkly) evidence of rodent incursion the next morning. More cleaning ensued. When I went shopping Wednesday, I bought more traps and set them that night. This is where it gets ugly.

I'd braced myself to enter the kitchen the next morning and find a dead mouse, since that's why I set the traps in the first place. I'll admit to being a bit squeamish, so since the traps are cheap, I don't bother with trying to empty them. I just put my hands in the plastic sleeves the newspapers come in and scoop the whole trap into a bag so I don't have to touch anything. But when I went to pick up this trap, it moved. The mouse was still alive! It was at an odd angle, so the trap must have triggered before it was in the right position, and it was pretty large, so the trap may not have been strong enough to kill it quickly. Still in the trap, it was skittering all over my kitchen.

I really wasn't sure what to do. I suspected the injury from the trap was eventually going to be fatal, so releasing it outside wasn't an option. I wasn't sure I was up to killing it directly. It reminded me of a scenario presented at that lecture on the psychology of good and evil I went to a few weeks ago, where people were willing to do something that led to the death of one person in order to save many, but they weren't willing to directly kill one person, even to save many. I may set a trap, but then it's on the mouse for being greedy and falling into it. I wasn't sure what to do after that to put it out of its misery. I settled for putting a stack of newspapers on top. Eventually, it got quiet, and I scooped the newspapers and what was under them into the trash and took the trash to the dumpster. Then I scrubbed and disinfected the counter and floor.

To cap it all, one of the pieces of music used in ballet class last night was "Ben," that love song to a rat. I had a massive giggle fit at the barre.

This morning, the trap I'd set last night was empty, and my counters and floor were clean. I'm going to keep a trap set for a few more days until I'm sure they've either gone away or I've got them all. This is great incentive to keep my kitchen spotless, with nothing out that even resembles food.

I've lived here for nearly 18 years, and last year was the first time I've ever had a mouse. It may have something to do with the wet weather and the flooding. I've also heard that exterminators talking about higher populations because of the mild winter. Whatever the case, stealing my chocolate will only lead to death. I feel kind of like the Brave Little Tailor, with his "Seven at one blow" belt. I need a t-shirt that says "I killed the last individual who took my chocolate."

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread: Chapters Eleven through Thirteen

Now that I'm back from my trip and done with copyedits, back to the Once Upon Stilettos reread, with chapters 11-13.

The loss of Katie's magical immunity is a pretty big deal, and it was interesting trying to imagine the full impact. Emotionally and psychologically, she feels like she's lost the thing that made her special. At the beginning of the first book, she was on the verge of giving up on New York because she didn't feel like she had what it took to make it. She was so ordinary that she didn't stand out in any way. Then she learned that magic existed and that she wasn't at all magical. That was a flip on the standard fantasy story that's about discovering that magic exists and that you can use it. It was a real blow to learn that she wasn't magical, but then she learned that her very ordinariness was at such a level that it counted as special, so she was valuable in her own way. That gave her a big confidence boost. She had something rare that she could contribute. And now, just as she's gotten used to that, she's lost it. That could mean losing her job, since she got her job by being immune. If she loses her job, she could lose some of her friends. She also worries that her friendship/whatever relationship she has with Owen might not exist if she weren't immune.

Then there's the physical danger and sense of vulnerability. She's been able to see past the magic to spot threats, and now it's like being blind. She knows there are things out there, but now she can't spot them. I can imagine that would be terrifying.

At least one review of this book criticized Katie for not telling anyone about the immunity right away, but I thought that made sense for her as a character. She's got a stubborn streak that makes her want to figure it out for herself (gee, I wonder where that character trait came from). But also, there are all those very good reasons to keep it to herself until she knows more because she has a lot to lose. She doesn't know how the company will react if she's no longer immune, and she doesn't want to be cut off from the magical world now that she's truly normal again.

Owen and Katie spend a lot of time in this book walking to and from the subway station, but you should have seen the first draft. I ended up cutting a lot of those scenes, or else I added more action to them. It was tricky because that was their main time of interacting, so that's when all their good conversations took place. At the same time, I didn't want this to be a book about commuting.

The secret Santa as team-building/mole investigation is something I got from my days in corporate America. Well, not the mole investigation (that I know of). There's always that social butterfly in the office who thinks it will be really fun to have to buy something for a random co-worker you don't know very well and to receive a gift from a random co-worker who doesn't know you very well. Like we all need more candles (which seems to be the generic secret Santa gift). It can kind of work in a really small office, though that also opens things up to having to live with the ugliness later if someone gets it wrong. There's always the overachiever who goes over the spending limit and the slacker who forgets to do anything and comes up with something like the coupon book for favors at a later date that they hastily make on their computer that morning (but just try to redeem them and see what happens). It's worst when the slacker is the Santa for the overachiever, who ends up feeling ripped off. So, yeah, there's a lot of potential there if you're trying to depict (or create) tension within a company.

Then we have the scene that all the Katie and Owen shippers were waiting for: Ethan breaking up with Katie (and clearing the way for the one true pairing). I've never actually been on a break-up date (that I knew of -- there was one that I later realized was meant as a big send-off, but he didn't actually break up with me while on the date), but I've known people it happened to. I'm more likely to have guys just disappear on me right when I thought the relationship was going well, but apparently for the guys who do actually break up with a woman in person, it's a thing to do so in a public place so they can avoid a big scene and possibly soften the blow. It's particularly painful for Katie at this time because she's already reeling from losing her immunity and therefore her sense of specialness, and now she's getting dumped for being too normal.

My agent loved the line about even the evil magical creatures knowing not to mess with a woman who's just been dumped.

It's funny, even though I wrote the book, I get a little teary-eyed on Katie's behalf during this scene.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Ready to Move On

I only have about 90 more pages to proofread, and then I'm done with this book -- other than writing cover copy and checking the interior layout and other production-related stuff. I enjoy the story enough that I keep forgetting that I'm supposed to be proofreading and end up just reading, so I have to go back and proofread, but I'm still ready to be done so I can write something else.

I've started doing research reading for the next project, and ideas are starting to flow. I think I have a concept, but the trick will be that I'm taking a more serious situation and finding ways to do it in a wacky, humorous way. That means taking some of the concepts and leaving a lot of it out. I'm looking forward to doing a weekend retreat for research and brainstorming. I've got books, and I picked up a couple of relevant movies when I was at the library yesterday for the runoff election (I love it when my polling place is the library).

I've said it before, but the development phase is my favorite part of writing -- coming up with the plot and characters and imagining the world. At that point, the story only exists as potential. It's still perfect while it lives only in my brain. Putting it into words is the hard part. That's when it becomes real and is limited by my ability to capture all those thoughts and ideas in a way that they can be conveyed to others.

But for now, it's all play, and the idea is pure potential. It could be anything.

I may also take some time this weekend to go to my ballet school's recital. They're doing movie music this year, and I've watched some of the class rehearsals of the advanced students doing a ballet to music from Star Wars. It's interesting enough that it might be worth seeing the final product. I think I also have some of my choir kids and former choir kids in the baby beginning classes, where the cute is going to be more interesting than the actual dancing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Digging into the Nebula Book Haul

One fun thing about the Nebula Awards conference is that when you arrive, you get a big bag full of books. The publishers give out books and advance reading copies, probably assuming that authors not only are big readers, but are likely to talk about the books they've read, and they may have a bigger audience than your average reader when they do talk about books, so it's a good way to spread word of mouth. I suppose it's mostly true, though there are average readers and book bloggers who have bigger Twitter followings than I have. (There are inanimate objects who have bigger Twitter followings than I have.)

At any rate, I ended up with enough books that I picked up a Priority Mail flat rate box at the post office down the street and stuffed it with as many books as would fit, along with some dirty clothes for cushioning, to ship back to myself, and I still ended up with my duffle bag packed full.

Now, I suppose I need to carry out my end of the bargain and talk about the books I've read. I've already read one, The Queen's Poisoner, by Jeff Wheeler, and I liked it well enough that I'll probably pick up the sequels.

Clever readers may figure out somewhere during the book that it's kind of an alt-history fantasy retelling of Shakespeare's Richard III, with some other bits of history woven in, but from the perspective of a young boy taken to court as a hostage when his father betrays the king. He's befriended by a mysterious woman who lives secretly in a remote tower of the castle and who seems to be manipulating events. There's also the spirited granddaughter of one of the lords, brought to court to get her away from trouble at home, and the two kids become close friends. This is rather pleasant fantasy reading. There's plenty of tension because the fates of our young hero and his family are always teetering on the brink of disaster, and he's up to activities that could lead to dire consequences if he's discovered, but it's not as dire or grim as has become the vogue in fantasy lately. There are good people who don't suffer terrible fates and there are bad people who get what's coming to them, and that's satisfying to read. I found the book engrossing enough that I almost finished it on the airplane and then stood reading it at the train station while waiting for my bus on the way home. In this book, the protagonists are kids, but apparently in the sequel they'll be in their late teens. This book has its own arc but is also about setting up the characters for more major roles in events.

So, if you're looking for people you want to cheer for, an intriguing fantasy world based on water, bits of real history, and a lot less darkness, this might be a good choice. It's a book published by one of Amazon's imprints, so you'll probably have to get it from Amazon, as most other outlets are refusing to carry Amazon books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Austen Obsession

I had a nice weekend that was actually sort of relaxing. My house seems to have crossed some kind of tipping point where it's clean enough that additional mess bothers me, so I'm motivated to clean even more. Since I got home from my trip, I've cleaned the kitchen after the day's cooking and eating every night before bed, and I've made my bed every morning. Now the real problem to tackle is the upstairs. I spent Saturday morning cleaning, so I got to spend the rest of the weekend hanging out and relaxing. I've started researching the concept for the next book I want to write and got through a whole research book on Saturday. Plus, I did some other leisure reading. It was nice to have a couple of days in which I had no plans or obligations, and even the house stuff was mostly done so I could enjoy myself without any sense of what I should be doing.

I got through the copyedits on Friday, so today I start a thorough proofread. I may try having the computer read out loud so I can make sure I'm seeing what's on the page rather than what's in my head. We'll see how long that lasts. I may find it very irritating.

While I was hanging out and relaxing on Saturday, I caught the movie Austenland on cable (actually, DVRd it and then watched it that evening). I'd wanted to see this when it came out, since I read the book, but it was at a theater I don't usually go to, didn't run very long, and had terrible reviews. It ended up being a rather cute movie. I might have been annoyed if I'd paid full price at a theater to see it, but it was just right for a cable movie, and if I find the DVD at a cheap price I might be tempted because it was fun and would make good companion viewing for either a conventional Austen adaptation or Bridget Jones Diary. (I may have to have a Jane Austen-themed girls' night in party someday.)

The plot follows a young woman who's been utterly obsessed with Jane Austen her whole life on a splurge vacation to what's essentially a Jane Austen immersion experience in England. Guests assume an identity appropriate to the period, wear period clothes, and live in a grand mansion. There are actors filling out the group (mostly men, since the guests tend to be women), playing out all the little flirtations toward a somewhat scripted storyline that the guests aren't aware of. The trick is that when so much is scripted, it's hard to tell what's real, so our heroine finds herself suspicious when she encounters the perfect Darcy type. Meanwhile, there's that stablehand/coachman who's willing to break character and show her what goes on behind the scenes.

It's been a long time since I read the book, so I didn't remember how it worked out and only remembered a few odd details. I think it could have been better, but it was mostly played for farce, and that proved to be rather entertaining. I just wish there had been more of the scenes of the actors hanging out in their free time because the contrast between them in Austen mode and their real selves was fun. I was never really sure what the movie was trying to say about the heroine's Austen obsession because it kept waffling on whether she was right about her ideals or foolishly deluded. She was so obsessed that it wasn't healthy (her home was a shrine to Austen), but at the same time she seemed to be one of the sanest people in the movie and I couldn't blame her for the way she reacted to things. You wouldn't have to be obsessed with Mr. Darcy to be turned off by the men she encountered before her trip.

It was just nice to have a fun romantic comedy without gross-out stuff added to attract men and with male love interests who were actually adults rather than overgrown fratboys who needed to be tamed by a shrew who forced them to grow up.

Speaking of movie romance, they've released a teaser trailer for the live-action Beauty and the Beast, and it looks lovely:

I'm so there. It might work as brain bleach to purge the atrocity Once Upon a Time has created of that story.

Friday, May 20, 2016


I got about halfway through the copyedits yesterday, so I should finish today, and then next week I'll do a very thorough proofreading, and then I'll be done with this book, other than work on the cover and cover copy and publicity, and all that.

Yesterday was a pretty good day. Not only did I get all that work done, but I also baked cookies, did my bookkeeping from the trip (so I won't be desperately searching for receipts next April when I'm doing my taxes), took care of a couple of things from the to-do list I came up with following the conference, and got everything else on the day's to-do list done. Plus, I made my bed, washed dishes and otherwise cleaned up from the baking, and went to ballet class.

And no, the Internet wasn't down. I think it was the cool weather, which always gives me more energy.

Since I'm so close to finishing this book, I'm starting to dive into the research phase of my next project. I'm not yet saying anything about what it is because I want to get far enough into it to know if it's going to be viable. It's still just a vague idea at this point. I know the kind of story I think it might be and the subject matter I think it will deal with. I went to the library today and checked out just about everything they had on the topic, so this weekend I'll start filling my brain with all that info and see what comes out.

I'm on track today to being as productive as I was yesterday, as today I've already gone to the library, unpacked from my trip, made the bed, and taken the trash out, and it's not even noon. This bodes well.

A lot of the sessions I attended last weekend involved promotion and publicity. I'm not sure I gained that much new information, but I did start thinking about things in a different way. I may start doing something different with my web site and blog, for one thing. I'm probably going to ditch Live Journal when my latest membership runs out. I may or may not keep posting at Blogger. When I first started blogging, that was the big place, and there were a lot of communities. I figured that participating in communities would be a good way for people to discover my journal and then discover me. I think I'm now at the point where anyone reading my blog is doing so because they know who I am, or else they're driven by social media posts. And if they're driven by social media posts, I want them to come to my web site rather than to some third-party blogging site. My current site setup doesn't allow a blog to be incorporated, so I may do something different there, and I may even hire someone to do the work so I don't have to fiddle with the technical stuff. I talked to someone who does this stuff for authors, and he can do something where he sets up the structure and framework and the author can fill in the content and update it without needing to go through the webmaster.

There was also a lot of talk about podcasting, social media, and even serial fiction. I have an idea I think might work well as a serial because it's inspired by Dickens, and that's the way he published. It might be a way to build an audience and interest. That's something I'll have to discuss with my agent, and after I get a couple more books done.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


I let myself have a couple of weekend-like days, since I worked all weekend. I apparently needed to catch up on rest, as I didn't sleep well while I was gone but have been sleeping late at home. I really missed my pillow. I've become accustomed to a memory foam pillow that's shaped for side sleepers, and it's hard to make hotel pillows give the same effect.

Not that I was totally slacking on work. We've been brainstorming cover possibilities for Rebel Magisters, which meant scrolling through stock photo sites to come up with things that might fit the format established in the first book. Of course, looking at all these photos tends to spark other story ideas. I find myself wanting to write the stories that go with the photos. That may be a fun exercise for brainstorming -- enter key words related to an idea into a stock photo site and then see what comes up.

Today, though, I'll be digging into the copyedits on that book, which means that I'll probably have it edited and proofread and ready to go into production after next week, so I need to start brainstorming my next book. I have some research I need to do, so there will be a library trip, lots of reading, and maybe a creative brainstorming retreat to set the mood.

Though what I really want to do right now is go on a cleaning/organizing spree. Before I left town, I got my house fairly clean. Then I spent a long weekend in a hotel, which inspired me to keep the house clean (I've made the bed and done dishes every day) and makes me want to get it even cleaner and more organized, with this as a starting point. I guess you could call me a lazy neat freak. I love the idea of a perfectly clean, organized space, but I hate housework, so it tends to slide. I've promised myself that if I make enough money and get the house clean and organized enough to start with, I'll hire a cleaning service for a once-a-month deep cleaning. I figure that's often enough to give me incentive to maintain things on my own and not let things get out of hand (since I'm the sort of person who cleans before the maid comes) and takes care of the stuff I seldom get around to, like thorough dusting, mopping, scrubbing, and vacuuming. I can swipe at it during the month with the professional cleaning as a starting point. I finally have the house clean and decluttered enough that this goal is in sight.

Now I just need to write and sell enough books to pay for it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hitting the Hard Parts: Distractions

I've been talking recently about getting past the hard parts in writing -- those times when you're stuck or distracted and it's hard to write. Today, I'll talk about distractions.

Writing requires intense focus -- the ability to immerse yourself in another world to create a story. That gets hard when your mind is spinning off in multiple directions. There are so many potential distractions. There are life events, like illness in yourself or loved one, family crises, the day job flaring up, moves, remodeling, etc. There are worries -- your career, home, family, finances. There are fun distractions -- the TV series you're binge-watching, the book you're reading, the nice day outside. The really annoying thing about these distractions is it's not just the things themselves that are distracting, but it's also thinking about these things that can get you off track. Even if you have the self discipline to wait until the evening to watch another episode of that TV series you're binge watching, for example, you may find yourself thinking about it when you're supposed to be writing. As a writer, you can't help but analyze the plotting and characterization and try to figure out where it's going. You may not be running off to the grocery store right this minute, but you may be making the grocery list in your head.

What makes matters worse is that the more difficult the writing is, the more likely it is that these distractions will pop up. That's also when the Shiny New Idea tends to make its appearance. If you're getting bogged down in the middle of a book and are feeling stuck, then suddenly your house will need cleaning, other people's characters will be more interesting to you than your own, and you'll be obsessing over your career path. How do you handle this?

First, there are some life events you can't control that it's right to focus on. Unless you're under a contracted deadline, you should prioritize your health and crises involving loved ones. You may need to take time to deal with a move or a difficult day job. Even if you have a contracted deadline, if things are pretty extreme you can talk to your editor about your issues. A publisher would rather know months ahead that you're not going to make your deadline. That way things can be rescheduled and you can get some breathing room.

But if it's not a major life event that's distracting you or you can't reschedule, you need to soldier on. If you're finding yourself more easily distracted than usual, one of the first things to do is figure out if it's you or the book. Are you stuck or blocked? Are you falling out of love with your story? Then you can try some of my recent tips on getting past the hard part of a book.

When the distraction is a minor thing, like dirty dishes or needing to make a grocery list, go ahead and do it and get it out of the way. If you find yourself obsessing about your career, write down your thoughts and make a plan. Really, writing things down is a great way to get distracting thoughts out of your head. It may help to begin your writing time with some free writing. Write for a certain amount of time or a certain number of pages, pouring out whatever pops into your head. Once the thoughts have been expressed, they're less likely to swirl around in your head.

Doctors say that one way to help yourself get to sleep is to create a routine that signals to your body that it's time to rest. The same thing can apply to writing. Set a schedule for work and have a routine that tells your mind and body that it's time to write. You may go to a particular location with minimal distractions, adjust the lighting, use headphones to play particular music you associate with your work (that isn't distracting), make a cup of tea or other beverage you usually drink while writing. Use these sorts of tools to get into your story, as well. You may have triggers like music, photos, or even scent that take you into the world of your story. It may help to start a writing session by re-reading your outline or synopsis or by reviewing and editing the previous day's work. Whatever it is, find a sequence of actions and environmental triggers that say that it's time to write.

I also find that it helps to set specific goals. I aim for a certain amount of writing time every day, as tracked by a stopwatch (so that tea breaks don't count) as well as a word or page count goal when I'm on a first draft. Give yourself little rewards along the way. I let myself take a short break after every half hour of dedicated writing and then a longer break after an hour and a half. It's easier to make myself put everything else aside to write if I tell myself I only have to do it for half an hour. If I'm on a roll, I may not even take the break, but it helps get started if I know it's there.

You may not end up feeling as distracted at work time if you allow yourself to deal with the things that distract you at other times. Set aside time to deal with personal and family business, clean your house (or hire someone to do it), read, and do other things that entertain you. If you let yourself do these things regularly, they'll be less tempting when it's time to write. You may have to adjust the amount of fun time you have, depending on your writing schedule, deadlines, and other events, but you know that there will come a time when you're able to play and deal with life again.

But a lot of it comes back to the story you're telling. The more you love it and the more excited you are about it, the less likely you are to be distracted. If you're being easily distracted and suddenly feel the urge to dust your bookshelves and then reread that book you ran across that you suddenly find strangely fascinating, then chances are you've got a problem in the story you're telling. Fixing that and finding inspiration for your work can do a lot toward blocking the distractions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Back from the Nebulas

I had grand plans about staying on top of blogging while I was out of town, but in a rare move for me, I was barely in my room during waking hours. I only made it back to my room to drop stuff off or pick stuff up, then to change clothes, and then to sleep. Otherwise, I was out being reasonably social or going to events. I managed to tweet and Facebook a few things from my phone, but more detailed writing didn't happen.

It's hard to tell so soon just what kind of benefit I'll have received from this conference, but I'm glad I went. I learned a lot, got a lot of great ideas, made a few good contacts, and had fun. I don't know if I raised my profile at all, which was one of my hopes. I felt fairly invisible a lot of the time, and this may have been the first genre-fiction-related event I've been to in about a decade in which nobody I wasn't already friends with seemed to have the slightest idea who I was. One person mentioned having read my books. Otherwise, no one seemed to have heard of anything I'd written, and only a few people even asked me what I'd written. I was trying to ask others about their work or mention having read their work, but that tended to spur monologues about their work without any reciprocity. There were people I've been on convention panels with in the past who acted like they had no idea who I was.

But I was mostly there to learn and meet people, and I did meet some new people, so maybe at the next event it will be easier. I did have some pre-existing friends there with whom I had a really good time. The workshop sessions were pretty good. I have a notebook full of notes and ideas for things I might be able to try in my career, and I have a long to-do list of things I need to implement.

I did get in a bit of fangirling, as I ended up seated next to Naomi Novik at the awards banquet, and not only am I a fan of her books, but her husband was one of the writers involved with the series Haven, so I fangirled all over him (I think I shocked him at even recognizing who he was). They were lovely people and a lot of fun to talk to, and she won for best novel, which means that every time I've gone to the Nebula Awards, someone sitting at my table has won best novel. I should hire myself out as a lucky charm next year.

And since I went on at great length about the outfit I was making, here it is. I just made the bodice. I already had the skirt. You can see that I fit pretty well in the style of the hotel, as we see from the portrait of Bertha Palmer above the ornate fireplace. I had a lace capelet I'd knitted as a wrap, but I didn't get photos taken in it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread -- Chapters Nine and Ten

I got up early this morning and am on target for a productive day, so before I go into a frenzy of packing, I leave you with more of the Once Upon Stilettos reread, with chapters nine and ten.

We start with the scene in Times Square in which Katie has just realized that her mom may be magically immune. I had way too much fun writing that. Times Square is actually my least-favorite spot in New York. It's too noisy, crowded, and flashy. But it's also very familiar because I've been to numerous conferences in hotels on or around Times Square, and the headquarters for the company I used to work for was on Times Square (in the same building where Good Morning America has their studio), so when I visited the New York office, that's where I was. The only good thing about that area, to me, is the fact that this is where the theaters are. It can actually be quite entertaining to people watch there and see the tourists reacting to things. This scene in the book is somewhat based on spoofing things I observed from tourists, with the added layer of someone who's reacting to the magical stuff that's also there. But because of the oddities in that area, it's easy for someone not in the know to think that this person is just reacting to the "normal" oddities.

Then we had to run into a gnome digging around in the park because how could I resist the chance to have a real garden gnome in a scene? Sometimes I can't help myself.

The scene in which Katie buys the red shoes is pretty similar to my own experience buying my Infamous Red Stilettos, though I got mine at Nordstrom in Dallas rather than Bloomingdale's in New York (they did carry them there -- I checked, and sold a pair for them while I was there). It really was like they had magical powers that I was sometimes able to resist. I went back and forth on whether to buy them, and then was still trying to justify them to myself when I got them home. I only wear them a few times a year and for special occasions because they're not super comfortable, and they're kind of hard to coordinate with outfits unless I'm using them as a pop of color against all black. But they are rather stunning, and I have walked a red carpet in them (when I went to the Hollywood premiere of Serenity). I still hold out hope that I'll get to wear them at a red-carpet event for a movie or show based on my books.

To be honest, I go through the same justification exercise for almost everything even remotely splurgy that I buy. That part of Katie is heavily based on me.

The deli scene in which Idris is messing with Katie and her mom was meant as the big comic set piece of this book. I guess you could say it's my own version of the infamous When Harry Met Sally deli scene. I was trying to start with something that's maybe a little odd that may or may not be magical and ramp up from there. I remember the first time I had matzo ball soup at a New York deli, and it wasn't quite what I imagined it would be. And then I escalated from there. I've been to one of those restaurants with singing waiters doing show tunes, and I can imagine it would seem really odd if you didn't know that was likely to happen. On the other hand, if you've seen a lot of musicals, maybe you halfway expect everyone in New York to suddenly burst into spontaneous musical numbers. I'm pretty sure I wrote this before the movie Enchanted came out, in which the "normal" guy expresses amazement about everyone just falling into the musical number and knowing the song, but that's the kind of thing that appears to be happening here, and poor Katie is stuck being the "normal" one trying to explain it to her mother. This was usually the scene I read from when I had convention readings related to this book.

We end on the big midpoint twist -- Katie's realization that her magical immunity is on the fritz. I don't know if it's still the exact middle of the book, but it was the precise middle of the initial draft. Since the fact that Katie didn't react to Rod the same way everyone around her did was one of the first clues that she was magically immune, it's only fitting that seeing his illusion rather than his real self was the clue that her immunity wasn't working anymore. She's been wanting "normal" through the whole book, and now she's got it. Spoiler: I don't think she's going to like it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Crunch Time

I'm now down to the wire in getting ready to travel, when it seems like I have an impossible to-do list and too little time to do it. So today and tomorrow will be busy. I'm going to try to get as much as possible done today so that tomorrow will be less frantic. I'm probably going to skip choir Wednesday night, and the plan is to have a relaxing Wednesday evening and get to bed early because I have to catch an early bus to get to the airport.

If anyone is in the Chicago area, there will be a public booksigning on Friday night at 8 p.m. at the Palmer House Hilton. Here are the details. There will be a lot of big names there. And me. I don't know if the on-site bookseller will have any of my books, but you can bring your own to be signed, or I can autograph bookmarks and postcards, or you can just say hi.

I've planned my wardrobe and changed my mind about one outfit because I'm trying for maximum mix and match in order to allow more room to bring home books. They posted what the goody bag looks like. I may even resort to finding a post office nearby and mailing a box back to myself. So many books … I'm even pondering relying on my tablet for airplane reading because it would be a waste to bring a book. But then it would be weird not to bring a book. Maybe I'll bring something potentially disposable from the Strategic Book Reserve.

Now, off to tackle the list!

Monday, May 09, 2016

Weekend Movies and Sewing

It's a busy week of gearing up for my trip to the Nebula Awards weekend, and I have a mile-long to-do list. Fortunately, I mostly finished my sewing over the weekend. I just have to sew on the hooks and eyes, which I'll do while watching TV tonight. I'm pretty pleased with the outcome. It's not perfect, but I figure it's at the same or higher quality than something that would have cost about the same at a store. I don't see myself starting to make all my own clothes, but it's nice to have an option for things that I can't find at a store. This particular item didn't seem to exist anywhere that I could find.

Because I was sewing a lot, and a lot of it involved hand work because I was hand basting before doing the machine sewing (smoother through the machine than pins), I did some movie watching, catching up on some OnDemand stuff on HBO.

So, I finally saw Pitch Perfect 2. The first movie was cute, but was mostly about the music, with the plot almost being an afterthought. The sequel barely even tried with a plot. It was so by-the-numbers that the writers clearly weren't trying to come up with something to string together the musical numbers. If you didn't figure out just about everything that would happen for the resolution within the first ten minutes of the movie, you either don't see a lot of movies or weren't paying attention (gee, do you think it will end up being important that the plucky newcomer likes writing songs?). I think a lot of my amusement stemmed from the fact that the lead woman on the "enemy" team played a pivotal Game of Thrones guest role, and I was blurring the two roles in my head. Still, it was fun for background noise while sewing, and the music is good. I'd love to try singing something like that.

Then there was Jurassic World, or as I've dubbed it, "Too Stupid to Live: The Movie." Just about every plot development in the story happened because of someone making a massively bad decision. The story would have gone nowhere if everyone had exhibited basic common sense. And, again, you kind of know exactly how it will all work out based on the first ten minutes. I was cheering for the dinosaurs. It was okay for background noise while sewing, but I think I'd have been bored just watching. The best part was all the memes that came out of the raptor training scene and the way that became a thing for zookeepers to act out and photograph.

Now to plan my travel wardrobe -- it turns out it's going to be cooler than I expected, so that changes some of my plans -- do laundry, clean the house, prepare some promo materials, start packing, finish sewing, finish setting up my tablet so I'll have all the logins for my usual sites, etc., etc.

Friday, May 06, 2016

The Once Upon Stilettos Reread -- Chapters Seven and Eight

Back to my re-read/commentary on Once Upon Stilettos, now covering chapters 7 and 8.

I remember putting a lot of thought into that fight by the car, including researching exactly what to call the particular wrench in question and figuring out the difference between a tire iron and a lug wrench. Really, hours went into that brief scene. Ethan's overpreparation is somewhat based on me. I don't have quite the amount of stuff he does, but I do have a first-aid kit, an air compressor, and one of those electric battery jumper things in my car at all times. I probably should carry extra water, especially in the summer, and I do when I'm on longer trips where I'll be out in the middle of nowhere.

The party was meant as yet another sign that Ethan just wasn't the right person for Katie. I didn't want the "Mr. Wrong" to be a bad person. Someone can be a great person who even has a lot in common with you and still be the wrong match. He's not being a bad person here. It's just that his idea of fun isn't the same as Katie's. I think there's also some holding back on her part when it comes to the magical world. In this book, she's still trying really hard to be "normal" instead of embracing the wackiness.

Then her parents show up. I want to state for the record that Katie's parents are not my parents. They aren't based on my parents. But there have been things about my parents that inspired them. Like Katie's mother and her bag full of traveling snacks, including fried chicken. That's something of an inside joke with my family. We lived in Germany for a few years when I was growing up because my dad was stationed there with the military. The way we did most of our touring was to take bus tours. We were fairly centrally located in Europe, so we could get on the bus around midnight and arrive at the destination first thing in the morning, spend the day touring, then get on the bus soon after dinner and get back home around midnight. We also took a longer tour, from Germany to Spain, that involved overnight on the bus and then spending about a week there. We learned very quickly that you can't trust the published itinerary. They always mentioned stopping for breakfast or dinner, and that might or might not happen. The driver might be feeling great and just skip the stop. You might stop and the place had already run out of food after several other tour buses had stopped there. You might stop, but there were other buses and a long line, so it was time to leave before you got any food. So we started bringing our own meals. My mom would make fried chicken, and we'd be ready for a picnic wherever we went. There was at least one occasion in which we fed half the bus full of young soldiers after a dinner stop was skipped. Now we joke that we should open a fried chicken restaurant and say that the chicken has been enjoyed internationally. So, of course Katie's mother had to travel to New York with fried chicken in her carry-on bag.

The travel stuff is kind of dated, since I wrote this book in 2004, before they started restricting liquids in carry-on bags and before they started charging for checked bags. Ah, the good old days of air travel.

I can't remember when I made the decision to make Katie's mom immune to magic. I don't think it was in the original plan, but it came about when I was writing. If Katie's trying really hard to stay "normal" and if she has a nosy and intrusive mother who's likely to worry about everything, of course her mother had to see all the other crazy things in New York. This has a real-world parallel to the way tourists see the city and the way locals see it, where tourists notice all the things that are going on while locals just go past it all. The scene in Times Square was at least somewhat inspired by a conversation I had with my editor when I was writing the book. That morning on Good Morning America, which is broadcast from a studio overlooking Times Square, they were talking about the 80-foot tall robot that had been put in Times Square to promote a movie. When my editor called me that afternoon to talk about something, I mentioned the robot. She walked through Times Square on her way to work and didn't remember having seen an 80-foot tall robot. She also probably wouldn't have noticed any fairies, giants, ogres, or anything else odd. Meanwhile, the tourists were all taking pictures of the robot. I experienced a similar thing on a trip, when they had a giant inflatable ape in Times Square. I stood back and observed the number of people who walked past without even looking and the number of people taking pictures of it. I'm not sure what you'd have to put in Times Square for commuters to notice it. I figure that validated the premise of my entire series.

So, now we've got a nosy mom prone to worrying who can see magical stuff and who is in New York at a time when Katie is likely to encounter lots of magical stuff. We're in for some fun.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Getting Ready to Go

I have now survived children's choir for the year. Yay! They were adorable and I was glad to give them back to their parents. I was rather pleased by the number of Star Wars shirts on both adults and children at the program, on Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you).

I also had a voice lesson yesterday from one of the grad students who's been singing with our choir. It was a "reward" from supporting her fund drive for a music program. It was pretty intense, and I ended up feeling a workout kind of sore -- not a scratchy sore throat, but like all the muscles I use for singing, including my vocal cords, were tired. We picked out some music that I may try singing the next time I need to sing for church.

Today I start really preparing for next week's trip, with a desperately needed haircut. My hair does fine going a long time between cuts, and then suddenly it will be like a switch is flipped and it's no longer doing fine. So, that's about to be taken care of. I'll also start really work on sewing my top for the banquet. It's all cut out and I've done some hand basting, but today I'll get out the sewing machine.

I also need to set up my new tablet that I got yesterday. I got a fairly low-end one that wasn't very expensive, just to see how I use it and how it works. I'll mostly be using it for travel so I don't have to lug the laptop on trips like this, so next week's trip will be the shakedown cruise. I got a Bluetooth keyboard case to go with it, so I can write. I doubt that much book writing will happen next week, but I'll be able to do stuff like blog posts.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to brainstorm my next book, but I seem to keep getting ideas for the two books in the queue after this one.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Hitting the Hard Parts: Mental WD-40

I realized as soon as I posted my last writing post about what to do when you're stuck that I missed some things, and those were the parts that address what to do when you really and truly don't know what happens next. Most of my previous advice was more about when you have a general idea but just aren't clear on how to progress. But there are times when you're flat-out stuck. Here are a few mental WD-40 methods to try.

One thing to do is look back at your research and development for this story. If you keep notes for research on professions, location, situation, or anything else and if you jotted down ideas for characters, situation, or plot, you may find some nugget in there that you wanted to deal with but forgot about, or else something you read may give you new ideas. I'm always amazed by what I find in my early notes. There's usually something that I wrote down but that slipped my mind once I started writing.

You can do more research. Find new sources about any aspect of your book and see if something in there gives you an idea you could develop. Is there some real-world parallel to something in your story -- a character, event, or situation -- either in history or in current events? Reading more on that topic may give you something you can fit into your story. It doesn't have to be a perfect match or a parallel anyone else might recognize, just something that makes you have an "Aha!" moment. Finding one little bit of truth that you can borrow is often the thing that can get a stuck story started again.

Practice what I call "story divination." When you're really stuck, you may be caught in a loop inside your own head where you can only consider the ideas you already have, but those ideas aren't working for you. Introduce an element of randomness that you didn't choose to force yourself to break out of that loop. You can set iTunes on shuffle or listen to a radio station and try to apply each song that comes up to your story or characters -- could it describe something that might happen in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) that affects the plot? I find this works really well with songs from musicals, since they often have plot and story implications. Go to the library, randomly take a non-fiction book off the shelf (this tends to work best in biography or history), read it and try to make it apply to your story -- is there an event that could make your plot work? Open a book of poetry at random and try to make the poem you find fit into your story. I know of writers who use Tarot cards, since each card has a lot of story material. Try to apply the card you draw to your story. You can do this with other kinds of gaming cards that contain actions, characters, or events, or you can make creativity cards by cutting out pictures from magazines, putting them on index cards, and then drawing one and trying to find ways to fit it into your story. You may need to do this multiple times because not everything is going to fit, but the idea is to make yourself think in different ways about your story and characters. The idea you end up using may have nothing to do with any of these exercises, but you may not have thought about it if you hadn't forced yourself to get out of that mental loop you were stuck in.

Look for inspiration. Find movies, books, TV shows, plays, or music that remind you of some aspect of your story. It may be a setting, a mood, a character, an actor who is your mental casting for your character, or a style of story/genre. Give yourself time to immerse yourself in these inspiring things. DO NOT COPY ANY OF THESE THINGS. Definitely don't take any wording because that can get you into trouble, but don't take scenes or events, not even if you're changing the names. Instead, think about what it is in these things that you like and analyze how it's done. Is there a feeling these things give you? How can you give that feeling through your current work? Is there a way a plot twist comes about that gives you any ideas? Is there something in these works that you wish had gone differently? I get a lot of ideas from "fixing" things from other works -- a conflict was resolved in a way I found dissatisfying, and if I have a similar conflict in my story, I can resolve it in a different way.

I've even found that it may help to mentally play out possibilities for my story using other characters. That way it feels less like I'm trying to bust through a writer's block and figure out things for my characters and feels more like mental fan fiction, which is fun. If I get a scenario I really like, I can transition it to my world and my characters, and then I can write it. It's a good mind game for when you're so blocked that thinking about your own characters is stressful.

When getting started again after a block, it may help to change something about the way you write. If you type, try writing longhand. Use a different font. Move to a different location. Write at a different time of day. That can help you move past the frustration you may have come to associate with writing.

Next (unless I come up with more on this topic), I think I'll talk about dealing with distractions.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Book Report: Fun with Secret Identities

It's been ages since I've talked about books I've read. It's not so much that I've been in a reading slump as it is that I've been doing other kinds of reading. I was reading my way through the ballot for the Nebula Awards, and since that's a voting thing I'm a little reluctant to talk a lot about my feelings about those works. I'm keeping up with a reread that's being done on a site. And I'm doing a "read the Bible through in a year" thing with my church, which eats up a lot of my reading time. If you want a book report there, Numbers is like reading the census report, but Judges is pretty juicy. You could make a Game of Thrones-style series out of that. There's tons of sex, violence, and, yes, nudity.

But I have read a book for fun, The Thorn of Dentonhill by Marshall Ryan Maresca. Marshall's now one of my convention buddies, but when I first bought this book, I don't believe I'd ever met him or spoken to him. It just sounded like a lot of fun, the kind of thing I'd been saying I wanted, a "non-epic" more intimate traditional fantasy.

It's about a student studying magic at a university (it's not like Hogwarts where it's a school for wizards, more like he's majoring in magic at a regular university), but at night he uses his skills from his childhood as a carnival acrobat to carry out vigilante justice against a crime boss who destroyed his family. And then one night he foils a deal and finds himself in possession of some powerful magical items that allow him to really ramp up his crusade, but that also make him a target for more than one group.

I suppose there's an element of superhero story here, now that I look at it (there's even a cape involved), but I read it as more of a Scarlet Pimpernel kind of thing. You may have noticed from some of my recent work that I enjoy the secret identity exploits kind of story. So, yeah, this was basically catnip for me. Lots of running around on rooftops at night and sneaking home while trying to avoid being caught, having to keep a straight face when others are speculating on who the alter ego really is and what he's up to. I love that we have a good, honorable hero who really is trying to do the right thing, even if he sometimes screws up. This is a great example of how a nice, good character doesn't have to be boring. He has his own issues and baggage and struggles, while still being basically a good person. The imaginary city where this is set feels like a real place, so it's no surprise that not only are there more books in the series, but there are also some spin-off stories set in the same place but involving different characters.

So, if you're looking for a fun fantasy read involving characters you actually like, this is a great choice, and I'll definitely be following the rest of the books in this world.

Monday, May 02, 2016

My Brain is Full

I had the kind of weekend you need a weekend to recover from, and then there was the 5 a.m. thunderstorm. So I got a very late and slow start on the day.

The one-day university thing was interesting. I came away with a lot of potential ideas. Fortunately, no new plots or worlds, just things that I might be able to use in the future or that would make interesting additions to the current plots. I also got to hold a Pulitzer Prize. There was a lunchtime session in which the photographers from the local newspaper who won the photography prize in 2006 did a slide show and talked about how they covered the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (what they won for). I'm not sure if the event would be worth the full price, and I was definitely not in the main demographic for the event, but it was really interesting and I came away with a lot of stuff I want to read more about.

The session on the psychology of good and evil wasn't quite what I expected, but it gave me a lot of great material I might be able to use in creating heroes and villains, especially if I'm showing the rise of a hero or the slide into villainy. The lecturer wasn't looking so much at what creates the Hitlers, Stalins or Idi Amins so much as she was looking at how enough people come to support those kinds of people that they can come to power and hold power. When you think about it, if everyone around them thought they were dangerous crackpots and ignored them or dealt with them, they wouldn't have power. It takes a lot of ordinary people going along with them for them to have any power because they have to have someone carrying out their orders in order to be any kind of threat. So the lecture was about how people can come to go along with that kind of thing.

Now my brain is full, though, and I have a lot to do before next week's trip.